Psychometrics: Using and Abusing

Look, SkepTech already has my favorite talk up!

Stephanie talks about psychometry: the way we measure concepts in psychology. It’s the intersection of statistics and psych, and I dearly love it. I was particularly happy about her answers to questions about fMRI’s and [my question] what we should keep fixing in how we measure intelligence.

You are Not His Mother

This is excerpted and edited from something I put on Facebook. 

There is a horrible article going around. I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, it says.  It’s the story of a mother who has a mentally ill child.

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
[…]
We still don’t know what’s wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around
[…]
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

No.

She is not. She is the mother of a mentally ill child who is NOT the shooter.

She is taking the story of a child, who is, by her own narrative, quite scary to mother, and deciding to generalizing that to a man she knows nothing about.  When you do that, when you repost it or share it or hold it up as so inspiring and raw and important to relate to this tragedy, you are saying this:

“People who behave in the way that I am describing are just like Lanza”
“Children who do these things that I am describing turn into Lanza”
“My child has something like X/Y/Z Disorder and I think they’re just like Lanza”

Because when you say that the narrative of your child just like that of a mass murderer, and then you describe some characteristics, things we *do not know* of Adam Lanza’s behavior, you are perpetuating some dangerous beliefs.

Please, please stop.

I’m not going to EVER defend the actions of the shooter.

But I will defend to all hell the people who you’re painting with the same brush.

And in case it wasn’t clear already, I will not accept “but any discussion about mental health is important!”. Nope. Discussions that speak over those who suffer from mental illness, that make them The Other, or that stigmatize them and paint them as gangly children with overbites, are harmful, and nothing more. Please stop.

Secondly, if you are going to discuss Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s here, please go educate yourself first. I suggest here and here, but I would gladly welcome more links in the comments. 

Someone who moves like you

Television has a huge impact on how we view the world and, perhaps more interestingly, how we view ourselves.  When Joe Biden said that Will & Grace had done more for gay marriage than anything else, it probably seemed like hyperbole, but the normalization of the Other often comes first in the form of simple inclusion.

Now, I want you to go read this essay about a woman who is autistic and discovered Abed Nadir.

And stories are a scary and messy business, full of magic and demons, taunting possibilities and rules-that-aren’t, things we can’t have and altogether far too many opportunities for a sad little girl’s heart to be ripped out of her chest, and Julia kept watching, every week. And you must understand that asking Julia to pick one Abed moment is like asking Abed to pick one reference.

You must understand that one story is infinitely bigger than zero, and it may still be very small and nowhere near enough, but it’s something.

If you don’t know who Abed is… your life is sad and you need to fix that by watching Community.

 

Anti-Vaxers

Someone on my blogroll posted something anti-vaccine, citing the rise in autism cases as just one reason that we should “stop poisoning our bodies”.  As someone who wouldn’t be alive if not for the radical medical intervention of the 20th century, I’m incredibly skeptical of anyone who claims that we’re poisoning our bodies with drugs without also acknowledging that we also don’t typically die in childhood and the life expectancy is over 40.

There is no link between vaccines and autism and more importantly, vaccines save lives. The increase in autism is partially to do with different diagnostic conditions, the introduction of autism as a spectrum disorder — to focus on the phony and disproven and discredited link invented by a doctor trying to sell his vaccine as better than the current one is to fail to research the real causes of autism.

Again there are 0 ties between vaccines and autism. It’s just a lie. The fact remains that when children are not vaccinated they get diseases that can kill them and make it more likely that the vaccinated kids will get those diseases as well. I’d rather have an autistic child than a dead child. And I’d rather not die because people are making up reasons to not trust the good science that’s been done.

Should you believe everything that comes from big pharma? No, of course not. And should you want to treat autism and be skeptical of anything that people put in their bodies? Sure. But you should also be able to rationally look at the human costs of not vaccinating children and the motivation behind the lie that there was a connection between vaccines and autism in the first place. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

“Vaccines against tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, hepatitis B, and Hib disease are preventing 2.5 million deaths each year.” – CDC

Short blog with good graph:
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/05/12/vaccines-do-not-cause-autism/

Longish on the anti-vaxers:
http://www.skepdic.com/antivaccination.html

Comic about Andrew Wakefield, the doctor of the original study:
http://tallguywrites.livejournal.com/148012.html

Longish well cited on the history and consequences:
http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-06-03/